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Dearest Eli,

As I write this, you’re running around the house in your fire fighter pajamas, using my phone to take pictures of everything around you.  This year has been a year of you turning more into YOU – the you that is sweet, charismatic and encouraging, but also passionate and fierce.

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If I had to sum you up in two words, Eli, you’re a fierce encourager.  So many days this year I heard, “Go Benjamin go!” or “Go Daddy go, you can do it!” or “You’re doing a great job being a Mommy today, Mommy.”  But – in the same breathe – “I’m gonna beat that guy up!” or my favorite:

“Mommy, let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was a knight named…… Daddy. And Daddy lived over here (points).  There was a biiig hugenormous dragon that lived….. over here (points to a different spot). One day, the dragon stole the princesses crown, and Knight Daddy went to the dragon and CHOPPED HIS HEAD OFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Or stabbed his eyes out. Or stabbed him in the heart.

You know, the usual 3 year old story.

You love telling stories, and I am rewarded with a new one on a regular basis.  The themes are similar – heroes, battles, and rescue are almost always present.  Each story you tell though, the good guy wins.  You love Finn from Star Wars – he’s your favorite (and so is every other stormtrooper).

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Darth Vader is also your favorite, but you’re never a bad Darth Vader. He’s always a good guy, in your book.

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You love to be the hero. See below, Optimus Prime:

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You don’t encourage anyone as much as you encourage your big brother, Benjamin.  So many summer days we spent at the pool, with us watching Benjamin do tricks while we floated and tried to learn to swim, and in the midst you could be heard saying “GO MY BROTHER GO! THAT’S MY BROTHER! GO BENJAMIN!!!!!!”

You love each other so much.  We haven’t had much fighting at all between you guys.  You’re so different from each other, you compliment each other.  Benjamin started Taekwondo lessons this year, and you’d love to but you’re not quite old enough.  But Daddy is teaching you at home and you love to practice – sometimes on Benjamin!

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One of the side effects of your passion and bravery is that you sometimes get carried away.  Like the time this summer where you jumped, bravely, into the 1 foot deep kiddie pool at full speed.  You fractured one of the bones in your foot and got stuck in a cast for several weeks!  Luckily it was the removable kind, so it didn’t interfere with summer swimming, but it was pretty crazy seeing you walk around with a huge cast.  It didn’t slow you down at all though.  You could dance around like normal within a few minutes of putting it on for the first time.

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Last year you feel in love with Star Wars, a love that continued all through this year.  You also added Transformers, Power Rangers, and PJ Masks.

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Power Rangers Dino is probably your favorite – and why not?! – and you loved the Power Rangers movie. Your love of dinosaurs comes from that, I suspect. 20170914_180217

You love wearing hats, glasses, and playing video games (especially “laser games”).

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You love hanging out with your cousins and friends.

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You still love sweets!

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You were old enough this year to go hiking, which made everyone super happy. We’ll definitely be doing more of that next year!!!

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If I had to pick out the thing about year 3 that stands out the most, I would describe this year as the year of the lego.

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This year you graduated from big blocks to regular sized legos, and as much as my toes may dislike it, you’re a fan.

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You build rocket ships, space stations, space cars..you get the idea.  Everything is precariously perched, and you have a serious obsession with lasers.  I mean, a serious obsession.

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We went to the Lego Land that’s inside the mall in Grapveine, Texas, and you talked about it for MONTHS.

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Your prayers for months consisted of “Dear God, thank you that we got to go to Lego Land. AMEN!”

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Speaking of praying, you love talking to me about God.  We talk about how God made you strong, and smart, and kind.  We talk about how God made the world and everything in it.  We talk about how God gave you Mommy and Daddy and Benjamin and ALL your family.

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You memorized all the songs from church, and love to dance and sing with “Ollie the Owl” at church.  Your favorite song is: “God’s love go on” because there’s a robot part.

When you’re not building a spaceship or watching one of your shows, you’re practicing ninja training and sword fights.

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You absolutely love fighting.  At least, in theory.  For Christmas we got you punching gloves and helmets, and once you got your helmet on, Benjamin popped you in the head, softly, and you started whining that it wasn’t fair he could hit you!  But most of the other time you can be found swinging a sword, trying to chop people’s legs off or stab them.  Daddy and I have to be careful playing with you, because you don’t hold back!!!

But in spite of the love you have for fighting, ninjas, sword fights, punching, and kicking… you’re one of the sweetest kids I’ve ever met.  You snuggle and give kisses readily, you lift us up when we’re feeling sad, and you recognize what emotions we’re feeling.  Your empathy for a 3 year old was pretty much off the charts, and I can’t wait to see what year 4 brings.

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I know it’s silly to look so deeply into you at this age but I hope you keep that forever. I hope you remember that inside of every bad guy – even people like Darth Vader – there’s a broken person deep inside that bad guy exterior…. who has value. Who deserves love. Who deserves someone to believe that there could possibly be a good guy in them.  I see how you love easily, how you forgive with tenderness, and how you smile at everyone.  I see how you are willing to fight for good, and I hope you never forget that.

Happy birthday, Eli.  Your Momma loves you and who you are becoming.  I can’t wait to see what happens next year.

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Last years, if you’re so inclined.

Initial Summary:

Where were you when 2017 began?
We drove out to see Brad, Charla and Lexi who were all camping, and then drove over to Gabe and Rachel’s house to celebrate with them.

Who were you with?
Family for most of the day, and friends who are LIKE family for the rest of it.

Was 2017 a good year for you?
The first half of it was pretty hard, the second half was sort of a reawakening.

What countries/states did you visit?
We took a cruise and visited 2 different parts of Mexico.  We also spent a week in California.  I also travelled for work, making it to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and Providence, Rhode Island.

Did you keep your new years’ resolutions? 
Well, Eli got potty trained, but that was really on him not so much as me… and I do have healthier relationships, but I failed to improve my eating/exercise habits to a substantial amount.  I did better, but then, cookie Christmas season. I’m getting better, though.

Did anyone close to you give birth? 
Some coworkers did, but no family.

Did anyone close to you die? 
No but Justin’s Great-Grandmother passed away.

What date from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
June 16th, the day we flew back to California with Lilly.

Experiences:

What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before?
I really, really, really struggled with how to parent my niece.  I spent a lot of time feeling like a complete failure, weak, and completely in over my head.  Which I totally was.  This year, more than many other years, I felt like I wasn’t good enough.

Did you have fun in 2017?
There were some pretty awesome parts of 2017, but I’m pretty glad it’s over.  Yes, I had fun, mostly the second half of the year.

What do you wish you’d done more of?
I wish I’d exercised more.

What do you wish you’d done less of?
Spent less money on frivolous things.

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 33!  I taught in the morning, then drove out to our training field and helped with patrol practicals. For dinner, my husband fed me wine, cheese, crackers and grapes.  It was the best birthday I’ve had in a long time.

What did you want and get?
I didn’t really have any wants, but the highlights were the coffee mug from Leslie and the Matchbox 20 tickets from Teresa.  We had a great time hanging out and listening to music and I definitely need more concerts in my life.

What did you want and not get?
Nothing really.

Others:

Whose behavior merited celebration? 
Justin has really changed this last year.  The journey over 2016/2017 was pretty intense and overwhelming for a lot of it, but he made it through and made a lot of changes that have improved his mental well-being and it’s been so encouraging and amazing to watch.

I also really celebrate my coworkers this year.  They rallied next to me, let me vent and be concerned, they asked about my crazy home life and offered support, encouragement, and advice.  I can’t even thank them enough.

Whose behavior made you appalled, depressed, or sad?
Lilly’s.  I love her, but I’m scared about the path she is heading down.  At a certain point in life though you have to let people make their own decisions, no matter how bad you think it will turn out, and trust God because he’s the only hope she has.

Did somebody treat you badly in 2017?
Probably not intentionally, and probably not maliciously, which is really what matters.

Who were some new people you met?
Church folks, mostly!

Favorites/Least Favorites:

What was your favorite month of 2017? 
December. It started with a cruise and I’ve had some good time for reflection and refocusing, as is usual for me this time of year. I’ve really made peace with a lot of stuff that occurred this year, and I really needed that.

What was your favorite moment of the year?
Driving through California with my husband in the middle of nowhere, with no GPS signal and no civilization around anywhere, stopping by the side of the road and staring at the milky way, then sleeping under the stars.  I’m a lucky, lucky woman.

Also, the time I got to spend with the kids. We did a lot of fun stuff this year!

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What was your least favorite moment of the year? 
There were a lot of least favorite moments this year.  Most of them involved dealing with things out of my control.  BUT next year is a new year!

What was your favorite TV program? 
Blacklist!!!!

What was the best book you read? 
SO MANY GOOD BOOKS THIS YEAR!!! So hard to narrow it down. Here’s my top three:

Non-religious non-fiction: Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown, totally rocked my world.

Religious non-fiction: Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans

Fiction: The Great Passage by Shion Miura

What were your favorite films of this year? 
So many good movies this year.  I loved Lego Batman, Wonder Woman, and Thor: Ragnarok.

What was your favorite video game you played this year?
Wordscapes!

What was your favorite new technology/application?
My google pixel 2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What was your greatest musical discovery?
SO MANY GOOD SONGS!

The Good Parts album by Andy Grammar – Pretty much every song on it speaks to my soul. (tell me your story, but don’t leave the good parts out… chills!)

Every Beat – by the Northpoint band (a cousin church to my Northpoint that is based in Atlanta)

Craig – Walker Hayes

Learning – Jason Gray (and, on depressing days, “Not Right Now”)

What was the best thing you bought? 
Vitamin B. Life changing (more about that later)

Self-reflection:

What was your biggest achievement of the year? 
Having the strength to send Lilly home.  It was very very hard knowing that she would likely fall into old habits.

Also, realizing that my eating habits are essentially gluttony.

What was your biggest failure? 
Sending Lilly home.

And, not controlling my eating better.  I’ve realized how much of it is a heart issue, not just a physical issue.  It’s definitely both.

Did you suffer illness or injury? 
Yes.  After Lilly left, my stress levels bounced from extreme to normal very quickly, and my body suffered as a result.  It took a lot of experimenting to realize that I needed a vitamin B and vitamin D supplement.  Once I started taking both regularly everything evened out for the most part.

Where did most of your money go?
Kids and gasoline.

What kept you sane?
God.

Who did you miss?
Aunt Lynn, who I didn’t see nearly enough of this year!

What did you get really, really, really excited about? 
The end of 2017.

Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder? HAPPIER
ii. thinner or fatter? Fatter
iii. richer or poorer? Poorer

Did you fall in love in 2017? 
I must admit, my husband’s life changes have made me fall more in love with him, so I would say yes.

Did you lose anything important this year?
I was pretty humbled this year. I would say I lost some of my pride, and became more aware of its impact on my life.  I still have a way to go, but I would probably say I lost my obliviousness to it, more so then the pride itself – which was an impactful, important thing to lose.

What was your proudest moment of 2017?
Receiving an award for my teaching work.  Definitely one of the highlights of this year.

What was your most embarrassing moment of 2017?
I vaguely remember something happening and saying “welp, that’s it, this is my most embarassing thing for this year” but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was.

Gauge your:
(On a scale of: Very Good, Good, Fairly Good, Fairly Bad, Bad, Very Bad)
• Relational Health – Very Good
• Emotional Health – Good
• Physical Health – Fairly bad
• Social Health – Fairly good
• Spiritual Health – Good
• Intellectual Health – Good
• Financial Health – Bad

In the future:

How will you be spending Christmas? 
We’re going to spend the 23rd with extended family, the 24th together at the house and at church, and then Christmas morning we will have our family Christmas.

How will you be spending New Years? 
Hopefully with friends and/or family.

What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017? 
A balanced budget

What are your plans for 2018?
To get my BMI to 27.4 (170 lbs, right in the middle of “overweight” instead of obese).

Will you make any new years resolutions for 2018?
Probably.

In Conclusion:

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017: 
You will not always be happy and satisfied.  There are periods of life that are just plain hard, sometimes with no end in sight.  The end always comes, though, there really is joy in the morning, you just have to stick it out and not lose hope.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year: 

First half of the year:

While I wait for the smoke to clear
You don’t even have to speak
Just sit with me in the ashes here
And together we can pray for peace
To the one acquainted with our grief
(Jason Gray – Not Right Now)

Second half of the year:

You gotta grow
Love yourself and be kind, water your soul
Celebrate, find your light
It don’t matter who you are, where you’re going, you’re not old
We all know, yeah, we all know
Gotta grow
(Andy Grammar – Grow)

My dearest Lilly,

Well, kiddo, we did it.  We made it.  When you came to us on August 1st, 2016, we weren’t sure what to expect. I know you didn’t either.  It’s been a time with lots of ups, and some downs, but I wouldn’t trade these past 10 months for anything.

20160801_231817 Tomorrow we’re flying you back to California – to a place with lots of memories for both of us.  Tomorrow ends your journey at our home in Texas, and re-starts the journey with your Mom and Lunna and everyone in California. You’re closing this chapter and tomorrow you start the next chapter of your life.

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Before you do, I want to remind you how much you are loved.

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It’s easy to look back at the past year and only remember the really strong memories.  But there were so many other moments of joy, fun, and laughter. 20160924_162151

You’ll find that life is mostly good, but sometimes bad.  It’s easy to remember the bad moments. It’s easy to focus on the things we really wish we had done differently, instead of remembering the moments we got stuff right.  But Lilly, when I really think back about the last few months, it’s been incredible to think of how many good moments we had.  Moments where we hung out, and grew together. Moments where we shared our life with you and you shared your innermost thoughts with us.  Moments where we laughed and played and went on adventures.

20160914_183929 Moments where there was lots of love.

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You’ve made some new friends – friends I hope you keep in contact with throughout the next year, friends who loved you when you had good days, and loved you when you had bad days. And you’ve gained two brothers who love you – and two parents who will continue to love you from 2000 miles away. 20170315_181949

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IMG_20170318_161531_909 You’ve gotten to know aunts and uncles and extra cousins you didn’t know before – and they’ve loved you and poured their wisdom and kindness into you. 20170316_165925

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We drank a lot of coffee this year!

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We did a lot of camping this year – and adventures in the outdoors. We swam and camped and took hikes.

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You struggled with your identity a lot. That’s pretty normal at this age – and we tried to help as much as we could. This is something you’ll struggle with more as you grow and mature – and I hope we helped you learn some new ways to identify the next steps.

CYMERA_20161012_181905 IMG_20161231_153024_770 You’ve got the world at your fingertips. You’re almost 14 – so close to adulthood – and about to start high school. The next few years of your life are going to fly by, but every day is going to feel like forever. I hope your time here was full of moments you’ll be able to think back on with fondness.

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I hope you walk away from us stronger, healthier, happier, and more self aware. I hope you take Jesus with you everywhere you go.

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I don’t think we were perfect parents for you, but we were what you had for this time of your life. And at the end of the day, no one is perfect. We’re all just struggling along trying to find our way. We mess up. We do stuff the wrong way. But through it all we tried our best to love you like Jesus loves you. We tried to show you a way different from what you’ve tried before. And I think – I hope – we did that. I hope, when you get back to California, you’ll have an opportunity to use the lessons we’ve taught you. I hope you can call me one day and tell me about some situation where you made a good, loving choice…even when it wasn’t the first thing you thought to do. I can’t wait for that phone call.

But until that phone call comes, I’m going to hold on to the memories we have. I’m going to remember the fun, laughter, and joy that you brought into our life.

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I’m going to remember how much Eli loved it when you played with him.

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I’m going to remember letting you play hookie on your last day of school so you could come watch me teach.

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I’m going to remember how hard you worked.

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I’m going to remember you achieving your goals.

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I’m going to remember that today, 10 months later, you’re a better person than you were when you came here. You have grown and expanded how you understand the world in ways that make me so proud of you. I love you so much – even when the words are hard to come by, I’m glad God gave you to me, even for this short time. I can’t wait to see what your future looks like.

Love,
Mom aka Aunt Jennet

Dear Benjamin,

HOLY COW SON. YOU ARE SEVEN YEARS OLD!

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When did this happen!?  I blinked – you were a baby and now you’re this amazing articulate loving bouncy boy who makes me so proud and happy every single day.

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This has been A YEAR.  Like, life changing and crazy year.  A month and a half after you turned 6, your older cousin Lilly came to live with us.  It wasn’t something we had planned – but it was something that, for lots of reasons, needed to happen.  It wasn’t an easy adjustment – well, it was at first, but then, after the newness wore off, we really had to work hard to keep things good.  You learned a lot about stuff that may have been a little advanced for you – but ultimately, a lot of stuff that made you stronger and better.

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You were in 1st grade this year. 20160817_065653

Your teacher was Ms. Bissanti, and you had A LOT of trouble concentrating in her class.  Some of it was because you knew a lot of the material already – but a lot of it was just you, being a normal, 6 year old boy.  We tried to let you get out and be free to run around as much as possible, and luckily your teacher believed in the importance of playtime once you got home.  So a lot of your homework was stuff we could do in “batches” instead of daily.  It was pretty awesome!

One of my favorite things about you at 6 years old was how this was when you really started to get an opinion about things.  You really love science – asking questions and understanding the way the world works. We have a local science museum, which you’re a big fan of.

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You are adamant about becoming an astronaut or pilot, preferably an astronaut because, well, “I want to do experiments in space.”   20170128_095740

Your project in GT this year was about the universe and Dad and I let you do almost all the work by yourself.

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Just so you know, Benjamin, I would love for you to be an astronaut, but I don’t care what you do as long as you’re doing something that makes you happy and makes the world a better place. If you are a mechanic, be the best mechanic you can be. If you’re an astronaut, be the best astronaut you can be. Whatever you do, do it with love, and don’t work so much you forget to live. That’s what I wish for you.

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Anyways – you learned how to ride your bike – on the 4th of July! – and had a blast going on adventures. We took a lot of bike rides in the summer.

You loved the helmet you got for your birthday!

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In spite of the neutral facial expression, you actually had a good Halloween!

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20160724_102319 You’re still doing piano – we actually decided to take a few weeks off for the next 3 weeks so you could have a bit of a break, and then hit it hard when you start back up. We want to use piano to teach you to stick with something, to work hard, to find joy in the hard work it takes. Your favorite part about piano is doing the recitals and getting all of the attention – but we’re hoping to help you understand that the recital is the result of all the hard work you put in during the everyday moments. It’s a tough lesson but an important one, and I hope we’re doing OK.

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We did a lot of camping and swimming and getting out into nature as often as we could.

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You’re eating better now than ever before. This is a project you and Dad dreamed up that you and Mommy worked on together. Pancakes with peanut butter, ice cream and chocolate syrup. YUM!

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You also learned how to make pancakes this year. EXCITING!

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There’s always a lot of chaos at the house and in most of our activities. Mostly good chaos, but still. You’ve definitely got more extroverted tendencies than introverted, so you don’t usually mind. Even when it’s not chaotic, there’s always lots of people around.

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20170317_115131 When I think back about you being 6, there was a lot of growth for you. One of the things that your Dad and I realized this year, was that we were awfully hard on you. We didn’t mean to be – but we were. You’d come downstairs in the morning for breakfast, and instead of saying something like “Hey Benjamin good morning!” we would say things like, “Hey, you need to tuck your shirt in, and comb your hair, and hurry because it’s almost time to go so you need to make your lunch.” All things that were true, but also, things that didn’t have a lot of grace and love – just critical comments. We realized it while reading parenting books that would help us with parenting Lilly for the year, but through learning about how teenagers and adults deal with things like shame and anger, we realized we were unintentionally shaming you. Making you feel like a bad kid. It was something that puzzled us for quite a while – why, when you did something wrong, you would immediately get super upset, lots of tears, and telling us that you were a bad kid who didn’t deserve love. When we correct you we would always try to address the behavior, not your value as a person, so we were super confused why you felt like that. Turns out, it was because of all of those little criticisms we were sending to you in the everyday moments. I’m happy to say that since Dad and I were made aware of it, we’ve cut back a lot. Or, we say those things that are true that need to be said (tuck your shirt in, we only have 5 minutes before it’s time to leave, etc) but only AFTER we reaffirm how loved you are.

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And you really are so, so, so loved. It’s so exciting watching you grow into a person. You’re still inquisitive and you love to correct people and counsel them and tell them what they’re doing wrong (I don’t know where you get it from, except from both of your parents) (sorry about that). You love Jesus and love going to church and learning. You’re silly and crazy and pretty self-aware for a now-7-year-old.

I hope when you read these you remember the good, happy times from this year. Your Dad and I constantly struggle with how to do the things God calls us to do but also protect you and help you see why we do the things we do. Sometimes God calls us to love those who desperately need it, but who don’t know how to love back. Sometimes we ask a lot of you – constant forgiveness, even when it’s not easy. I hope us loving people helps you to grow into a strong, compassionate man capable of great love. I hope you’re better than your Dad and I – better at boundaries and taking care of yourself and loving others the way Jesus does. Those are all important things that are hard to teach, because you’ve got to model it.

Parenting is hard – it’s this crazy balance of trying desperately to teach the things you know are true and good, but also recognizing that you don’t have stuff figured out yourself. You and your brother and the others we’re charged with the care of – you’re all worth the hard work. Watching you grow up has been such a blessing and joy.

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I can’t wait to see what year 7 brings us. I love you to the moon and back, then back out to the stars. You’re an amazing, wonderful, adventurous, kind child, and I thank God every day for you.
Love,
Momma

Last years, if you’re so inclined.

Initial Summary:

Where were you when 2016 began?
At home!

Who were you with?
Close family – we smashed our gingerbread house and Eli played on his new toy horse.

Was 2016 a good year for you?
It was, sort of. It was pretty rough. It was long. It was life changing.

What countries/states did you visit?
We visited Alan, Mandy and Ethan in Oklahoma as a family first half of the year.  Then Justin and I took an awesome mini-vacation where we drove through Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Maine.

Did you keep your new years’ resolutions? 
I did not make any, so, yes. One of the interesting things, when I was asked last year what I wanted in 2016 that I lacked in 2015 I said more camping, more friends and a church home.  Luckily, I can add all of those to my list of accomplishments. We went camping 3 times (spring break, summer, and thanksgiving), found a new church home, and I’ve developed some friendships at work.

Did anyone close to you give birth? 
Cory and Erin added baby David, aka Boog, to the family!

Did anyone close to you die? 
No.  Lots of other people did, though, it was a rough year.

What date from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
August 1st, 2016, the day Lilly came to live with us AND the day that I started my new career at the Police Department.

Experiences:

What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?
We took my niece in for the school year to help her out.  Justin and I got to visit the east coast, which was pretty awesome.  I became the Accreditation and Compliance Coordinator at my job, which is a completely different job than dispatching.

Did you have fun in 2016?
I believe the phrase that best sums up this year is: “All joy and no fun.”  We did get some good camping trips in this year.  My new job is pretty amazing, too.  I enjoy it a lot.

What do you wish you’d done more of?
I wish I’d spent more time living instead of responding and surviving.  I wish I’d been more empathetic and given more grace to Justin.  It’s been a pretty rough year.

What do you wish you’d done less of?
I wish I’d been less judgmental, less controlling, less bossy.  I wish I’d spoken less and listened more.

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 32! I worked, because the last few birthdays have kind of sucked and I was tired of trying to do something special.  So my brother-from-another-mother Gabe and some of the other guys took me to lunch.  That evening was our very first Community Group with our new church, and that was a pretty great birthday present.  That’s been a worthwhile and awesome investment.

What did you want and get?
A break from dispatching. Leslie got me a really awesome coffee mug from my Pinterest wish list, too!

What did you want and not get?
Debt free.  And I see no sign of that in the near future.

Others:

Whose behavior merited celebration? 
My families. Lilly has shown a willingness to grow and change and become more self-aware, which for a 13-year-old is pretty incredible. Justin has stepped up and really helped mitigate some of these changes with grace I can’t comprehend. Benjamin has taken on the task of having a big older sister with a good sense of humor and a willingness to grow.  It has been QUITE an adjustment for him, but he’s done amazing.  Eli has kept everyone smiling and shows compassion that I didn’t think a 2 year old was capable of, but there he is every day asking me how my day was.

Whose behavior made you appalled, depressed, or sad?
People who put their needs over the needs of others, people who refuse to listen to loved ones, people who won’t change. People that choose to take dark paths because they’re easy. People that scream that they’re being judged and no one will tolerate them, when they’re the ones who aren’t tolerating others.  Also my own behavior, which was characterized by impatience.

Did somebody treat you badly in 2016?
Yeah but I probably deserved at least some of it.

Who were some new people you met?
Beth!!!!!!!

Favorites/Least Favorites:

What was your favorite month of 2016? 
That is actually easy this year.  April we went to go visit family in Oklahoma, I was given an award at work for my work to help victims of domestic violence, I got to teach at the APCO/NENA conference, AND we got to go to NASA. Oh, and I had a lady’s weekend with my family.  I’m gonna have to go with April!!!

What was your favorite moment of the year?
The entirety of Justin and I’s vacation together. Also, Benjamin learning how to ride his bike. That was a pretty incredible experience with him in front of the house.  He just kept trying and trying until he could do it. And then, he did!

What was your least favorite moment of the year? 
There are a lot of least favorite moments this year.  Most of them involved dealing with things out of my control.

What was your favorite TV program? 
One Piece!

What was the best book you read? 
Hmm. Tough decision, as always.  Non-fiction I really liked “Drive” by Daniel Pink. Fiction I really liked “We’re all Damaged” by Mathew Norman.

What were your favorite films of this year? 
The new Star Wars!

What was your favorite video game you played this year?
I haven’t played any this year.

What was your favorite new technology/application?
My fitbit was pretty awesome for most of the year!

What was your greatest musical discovery?
Aviccii.

What was the best thing you bought? 
New tires for the truck #oldlady

Self-reflection:

What was your biggest achievement of the year? 
I took in a teenager. Pretty much everything pales in comparison to that.

What was your biggest failure? 
I could be doing better at the teenager thing.

Did you suffer illness or injury? 
Not really.  Luckily I paid attention to my body a lot better this year and didn’t have any major injuries.  Eli had a lot of illness, but he’s doing good on his medicine this fall so we haven’t had nearly the sickness we did last year (thank you Jesus).

Where did most of your money go?
Kids and gasoline.

What kept you sane?
I’m not sure I kept it…

Who did you miss?
My husband.

What did you get really, really, really excited about? 
CAMPING!

Compared to this time last year, are you:
I. happier or sadder? Sadder
ii. thinner or fatter? Thinner!
iii. richer or poorer? POORER!

Did you fall in love in 2016? 
Yes, with a temporary daughter!

Did you lose anything important this year?
Yes.  We lost the previous family dynamic. But, it’s being reshaped into something new and different, and sometimes losing something important isn’t a bad thing, just a thing.

What was your proudest moment of 2016?
Listening to Benjamin try to teach Lilly about God. Getting my new job.

What was your most embarrassing moment of 2016?
Telling my boss he shouldn’t worry about being sloppy with his Y’s, as long as he’s not sloppy with his wives *facepalm*

Gauge your:
(On a scale of: Very Good, Good, Fairly Good, Fairly Bad, Bad, Very Bad)
• Relational Health – Fairly good
• Emotional Health – Fairly bad
• Physical Health – Good
• Social Health – Fairly good (this has consistently been bad, but this year we really improved it)
• Spiritual Health – Good
• Intellectual Health – Very good!!! This new job is really helping that!!!
• Financial Health –  Bad. Almost very bad. But not quite!

It seems to me, each year, that one of these things is bad. Balance is a terrible, terrible thing.

In the future:

How will you be spending Christmas? 
We already had it! We spent Christmas Eve at our house, and it was absolute chaos. It wasn’t nearly enjoyable enough considering how much effort was put into it! Next year: everyone opens presents ONE AT A TIME.  Christmas morning we were at Aunt Tina and Uncle Scott’s and we had a great time.  The kids got some really fun presents.

How will you be spending New Years? 
Already done (I am totally late this year filling this out).  We went to visit Aunt Charla and Uncle Brad and Alexis in Bastrop where they camped, and then drove over to Gabe and Rachel’s house for the nights.  We rang in the new year with all the kids and I kissed my husband at midnight.  We hung out with friends, laughed, talked, snorted with laughter and made some great memories.  I loved it.

What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016? 
More organization in the house. I would really like it a lot if Justin and I could work out a way to balance and prioritize our life a little more.  Adjusting to this year has been ridiculously difficult, and while I know we’ll come out stronger on the other side of this, it’s definitely been a challenge.

What are your plans for 2017?
To spend a lot of time outdoors, to get Eli potty trained, to log more time on my bicycle, to get my BMI to 27.4 (170 lbs, right in the middle of “overweight” instead of obese). To improve my relational and emotional health to the “very good” categories.

Will you make any new years resolutions for 2017?
Yeah – I gave up candy, cakes, and cookies for the first 11 months of the year, with a few exceptions (like the kids birthday).  I gave up candy in 2015 and it helped a lot with my awareness.  This is a big more extreme, but I think it will be a good experiment.

In Conclusion:

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016: 

I am still learning it.  I think it’s something about the importance of listening, and shutting up, and servant leadership.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year: 

I have two:

All my friends are heathens, take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don’t make any sudden moves
You don’t know the half of the abuse

And:

You’re the reason that I feel so strong
The reason that I’m hanging on
You know you gave me all the time
Oh, did I give enough of mine?

Hold on, darling
This body is yours,
This body is yours and mine
Well hold on, my darling
This mess was yours,
Now your mess is mine

 

My dear Eli, my Bouk’um, my snuggle bear, my youngest,

Today you are THREE! The past year has been a whirlwind of growth and amazing experiences for you, and watching you discover the world has been an incredible thing.  Your health this year has been significantly better, thanks in part to regular allergy medicine during your roughest season (October through April, sorry son, same as mine).

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You had a lot of fun. We did a lot of fun family adventure type things this year; Sea World, Camping, Vacations, Family trips, etc. You loved almost everything. Whereas last year you showed a lot of trepidation at social events, this year you’ve really embraced the unknown and have shown less shyness at large events.

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But you still love to sit quietly and observe.

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You love superheros and fire fighters. There have been so many adventures this year where we have had to “rescue the people in the tall tall building, Mommy!” Every time you see a fire truck, we have to acknowledge, wave, and go visit if we can.

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You love to smile and laugh. You love to be tickled.

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You love your family desperately. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear from you – “how was your day, Mommy? Did you have fun?” You love to check in with us. If we look emotional, you ask us if we’re ok. You care. You remind me SO MUCH of your Daddy.

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Your vocabulary has grown so much this year. You have this amazing accent that doesn’t belong to anyone in the family, none of the shows you watch, it’s uniquely you.  Cars are “kaahhs”, Lilly is “Yillee”, monster trucks are “Mahhhhnsta trucks”, just to name a few.  You also do a really great impersonation of a fire truck – “weeeohhh weeeohhh”.

You don’t like sweet potatoes, wearing costumes, or sharing.  You play HARD. You play until you can’t play anymore, and then you nap and start over.

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Your favorite story is “The Awkward Owl,” a story about an owl who can’t fly very well until he is loved and given the space to heal. Then he…well, I don’t want to spoil it for you if you don’t remember. But it’s a great story and you have an owl you sleep with every night – named owl – and we love to make him fly upside down and back side first, just like the awkward owl, into your arms each night. You smile so big!

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You love Animal Mechanicals, Oso, Thomas the train, Bob the Builder, Wild Kratz, construction equipment, puzzles, legos (or as you insist they be called: BLOCKS!), trains, toys, race cars, sweets (cookies, candy, ice cream, all of it!), but fire trucks (and fire fighters) most of all.

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I don’t know what the future holds for you, Eli, but you are so full of love and kindness, so full of empathy, so full of all the good traits that make amazing people.  I hope we can foster those and help you to grow into an amazing man.  I hope we can shelter you from the world, at least a little, and help you to realize how much good a simple smile can do.  How much a kind word is needed.  How much you are needed.

Thanks for being the most amazing Eli I’ve ever known.  I can’t wait to see what next year holds in store for us!

Love,

Mama

Dear Benjamin,

Today is your 6th birthday!!!!  The past year has been so much fun, and you’ve grown up so much.  You completed your first year of school (Kindergarten with Ms. Smith) and learned to read.  You learned how to swim (including jumping off the diving board). You’ve continued to learn the piano and had some pretty awesome recitals.

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You lost 2 teeth and started wearing glasses (took my breath away the day you lost a tooth and got your glasses, so grown up!)

You’ve gotten stronger, faster, and maybe a little bit kinder.

You try passionately to be a good kid.

We’ve given you quite a bit more responsibility this year.  You’ve got chores that are your job, that we expect you to do.  Things like helping with the dishes, cleaning the living room floor, and feeding the dog.

Overall, I would mark this as a year with lots of growth.

We talked yesterday to you about some of your summer chores – one of which includes a certain amount of reading.  It was pretty clear to us that even though you’d “read” you hadn’t actually retained anything you read.  That was a pretty common thing when we were growing up – especially me – so I told your Dad the way to fix it was to make you read out loud for your “required reading.” You got upset at us; you told us that you didn’t mean to get in trouble, that you were still learning how to be a good reader.  We told you that it was OK, that we were learning how to be good parents, and sometimes we have to adjust the rules so we can all be better. It’s a small lesson, but hopefully one you will take to heart.

You learned a lot more about being a good friend from your time in school.  I saw you talk through problems with your friends, challenge them, and lose with just a TINY bit more grace than you have in years past (you still hate it though).

You have a strong internal desire for others to follow the rules.  Half the times you got in trouble in Kindergarten was because you were getting on to the other kids for not following the rules. You hated rug time because you had to sit criss-cross apple sauce, but you’d sit there patiently with a bubble in your mouth UNLESS you were telling the other kids (who weren’t listening) that they needed to sit down too!

In spite of your rigidness regarding rules, you were well liked and enjoyed by your classmates. You went home frequently lamenting that you were having problems and no one liked you, but over and over again we saw evidence that your classmates adored you.

And, true to family tradition, you were enjoyed by your teachers. They said they’re going to miss you SO MUCH.

You’re finally understanding what a “figure of speech” is.  The past year your literal nature has led to lots of misunderstandings when your Dad and I say things like, “You took the words right out of my mouth!” But yesterday you used that line on Dad, to which he replied “that sounds painful” and you painstakingly advised him that you were just using a figure of speech and you weren’t REALLY taking words out of anyone’s mouth.

It was such a simple thing, but it made me really happy for you – it was a sign that your brain was growing up, right there before my eyes.

You’re slowly starting to see the world around us.  You got kind of upset at us the other day because there was a homeless person panhandling and we didn’t give them any money. We told you we didn’t have any money on us at the time, to which you replied that we needed to have money on hand in case we saw someone who needed help.  You asked about why they were homeless, and what it meant.  You’re going to collect money for your birthday to give to homeless people, since you don’t really need presents.

Your silliness makes life more fun.

There were a few things this year that were very very awesome, where we got to make fun memories. We got to go visit Uncle Alan, Aunt Mandy and Cousin Ethan in Oklahoma. We had a blast!

It rained a bit, and we played video games for a bunch of it, but even for the short trip we had it was memorable.

Also, we went to the NASA space center in Houston.

You love space and rocket ships, so it was especially awesome. We didn’t have nearly enough time, honestly, but even the few hours we got was well worth the time.  We’ll go back as soon as we can!

I love spending time in the kitchen with you. You’re quite a good helper! You can chop vegetables, help stir things as long as they’re not too hot, and most recently you’ve helped me measure and read directions. Cooking with you reminds me of all the happy memories I have of doing that with MY mom, so I’m glad you play along (even though some days you’re just as likely to prefer a few minutes of screen time).

You and Eli have become quite a pair.  He drives you a little crazy, but you obviously love him and dote on him.  You’ve started trying to teach him things, but you also often try to take advantage of him to get what you want.  I can’t blame you, I’m sure I did the same thing with my little brother.

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I see so much of myself and your Daddy in your personality. You’ve got my competitive streak and my desire to be a people pleaser. But, you’ve also got your Daddies logic and intellect. You have his intelligence, and right next to it, strong awareness of when you fail to meet your own expectations. We give you frequent reassurances that you’ll get there – you’ll figure it out, you’re still learning how to be a person – heck, sometimes your Daddy and I fail as people, and we’re much older! I just hope you learn to give yourself the same grace that Jesus gives us, the same grace we give you, because loving yourself? Man, kiddo, that’s tough some days.

I have a feeling this is something you’re going to need to hear frequently, so let me just say, for the record: You’re a great kid. You are loved. You are cherished. You got this.

If you ever doubt my love, you’ll have these letters to remind you. I love you Benjamin, and I’m always going to cheer for you, no matter what.

Love,

Mom

My sweet boy Eli,
Today you turn TWO years old.  You have been such an amazing bright spot in our family and we are blessed to have you!

The past few months have been pretty rough for you – starting around October you started having lots of health issues – runny nose, cough, difficulty breathing… it was pretty awful.

You ended up in the ER and we spent a LOT of time at your Pediatrician’s office.  Luckily Dr. Rose is super sweet and helped us find the best solution for you.  We had to give you breathing treatments – our nebulizer has a fish design on the child’s mask, so you referred to your breathing treatments as “fish!”  We’d tell you, “Eli, it’s fish time!” and you’d come sit in our lap and watch TV while you breathed in medicine to help you breathe.

We’re hoping it doesn’t turn into allergy-induced asthma – next year will be an important year for determining that.  We’ll probably get you allergy tested this year, though, since this is not the first time you’ve had an allergic reaction to something (pretty sure you’re at least a little allergic to sweet potatoes and some chemical in some of my hair products).

You’re a pretty normal 2 year old when you’re sick – clingy and whiny.  When you’re not sick though, you’re very sweet and independent.  You love to help me unload the dishwasher – you stand on the counter and put away the cups and plates. You follow directions and love to be my “helpur.”

You love to play with any sort of vehicle, blocks, little people stuff and footballs.  One night, not too long ago, I brought you a pair of pj’s. You immediately started telling me, “No Mommy, football ones! No! Football ones!” so I brought you the correct pj’s (the ones pictured below) and you said that they were the “right ones.” Seriously. You were very adamant.

You love everyone in the family – you love to list off the names of all the family members including both dogs.  You probably love your brother best of all.

Your cousin Lily stays with us sometimes. You guys play together well, for the most part.  She frustrates you when she doesn’t share (or you don’t want to share and she does) – “LEE LEE NO” you’ll say.

You love to read. We’re currently reading (and re-reading) “There’s no place like space!” and a book about Thomas the Train.  Every day, at nap and at bedtime, like clockwork.  If the mood strikes you right we’ll also read the Cookie book, which is a book about the Cookie Monster throwing a thanksgiving day party. Your favorite books have “cat in hat” on them.

A few months ago you still had a lot of “baby” to you – but not anymore. Now, you’re full toddler. Rambunctious, independent, and fire in your eyes.

You love to eat and drink.

You’ve gotten in to the habit of eating less at dinnertime just like your big brother, but since you eat so much during the day we’re not overly concerned.

You love sweets, just like your Mama.

Your brother started school this year, which means you’ve had more time with just Mommy and Daddy and less interruptions. You’re content to spend it playing quietly or watching TV.  You love PBS and it’s helped you learn SO much.

You can count to 10 and know almost all the letters by sight.  When Super Why asks if you’ll help solve the mystery, you enthusiastically reply “YES!”

You’re such a handsome kid.  When you smile the world lights up.  If you don’t like something, you yell “top” (stop) and put your hand up. Just like Hop on Pop.

You also have some of the best facial expressions.

I think one of my favorite things about you is your laugh. You are quick to smile and quicker to laugh. Everything funny to you is a belly laugh and you always laugh for a long time.

You try desperately to be like your brother and tell knock-knock jokes. This is usually how it goes:

Eli: Knock Knock!
Me: Who’s there?
Eli: Boo hoo hoo
Me: Boo hoo hoo who?
Eli: Cry.. hahahahaha..
Me: Oh, don’t cry it’s just a joke?
Eli: Just joke.. ha ha ha

So much of you reminds me of your Daddy – the way you stare out the window, the quiet way you answer questions, the look you give when you are feeling shy, the way you feel slightly out of place at a busy theme park.

Then sometimes I see myself in you. In your giggle, in the way you hug me, in your dimples.

In your silliness.

Even though I see so much of us in your personality and looks, you’re still a completely new person – a blend completely unlike your brother. You’re such a unique kid with such a great personality.  I can’t wait to see what path you choose – will you seek a path towards football (seriously, you don’t necessarily display any skill, but you’re obsessed with the ball, you sleep with it at night instead of a stuffed animal) or will you find a more creative endeavor? Will you continue leaning towards introversion, or will you join your brother and I in the ranks of extroverted?

Being a parent has been such an adventure.  I’ve never laughed as much as I do with you and your brother, and your Daddy says some days your smile is what gets him through the day.  Thank you for being you, Son, you’re such a blessing to our family.  I love you.

Love,
Mama

When I was a young girl, my Mom showed me a picture of my Nanny (her mother) as a child with her family.  She showed me the people who had committed suicide; the people who were alcoholics, the people who had fought battles and lost.

She looked at me and said: “The cycle stops here. With us.” She told me and she hugged me, she said we were going to be different, that we would succeed where others failed.

I lost her, too.  Just a few years after that conversation.

I sometimes wonder if in her fight to escape she forgot that she also had to fight to live.

There are echos of generational brokenness scattered across our culture.  I’m not talking about “generational curses” that were talked about in the Old Testament. I’m talking about an alcoholic family producing alcoholic children because that is all they know.  Or an abusive husband who raises a son who is an abuser too.

Generational brokenness is everywhere when you start to look.  I see it when I see local stories of families destroyed by two generations worth of bad decisions that cumulate in tragic loss.  I hear echos of it in the voice of a man who shoots his daughter and 6 grandchildren.  I saw it when my father shot my mother and I see it when I look at my husband and my children and I know that we have to fight.

I can’t speak to your story – I can only speak about mine.  And I know that in mine there are generations and generations of brokenness.  I bring alcoholism, suicide and domestic violence with me into my marriage with my husband. He brings alcoholism and bi-polar depression.

We bring ourselves, and written on our spirits are fingerprints of the past.

For better or for worse we are children of the generation before us.

Where then, is our hope?

What then, can save us?

I don’t have all the answers.  I can only guess. But here are a few things I can tell you.

  1. Being aware is crucial – I grew up knowing that my parents were fighting against the bad things they had learned from their parents, just like their parents surely had fought against the bad things they learned from theirs.  Each generation the combination changed.  I didn’t see my parents alcoholism until the last few years of their life, but I grew up seeing their domestic violence (not that I realized it at the time).  I grew up from age 5 knowing the effects of suicide.  Being aware helps you actively fight against it.
  2. You have to actively fight against it – I can only speculate, but I suspect that my parents actively fought against the errors of their predecessors for a very long time until they slowly stopped fighting as hard. And eventually, day by day, they got a little bit more lax, until finally they stopped.  And it was when they stopped that darkness took over and it wasn’t long before they went too far and lost their lives.  Fighting is the only option.
  3. It’s not easySometimes it is exhausting.
  4. Where there is brokenness, grace abounds – God is, thankfully, much bigger than the broken situation we find ourselves in.  Nothing is too shattered for Him.  Romans 8:1 says “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

2 Corinthians 2:17 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

I don’t know if I can successfully fight the brokenness I’ve learned from my parents.  But I do know that I’m going to fight it at every corner, at every turn, and work hard to stay aware of it. I’m going to keep myself accountable to my husband, and vice-versa, because together we are stronger.

And at the beginning of every day, I’m going to try to lean on God.  Because it is exhausting to fight, and he is strong.  Life makes me despair, but with him I feel hope.

Ephesians 6:10 reminds me to “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”

He is our greatest hope.

Dear self,
Yesterday you turned the big 3-0. Thirty.  Take a deep breath. That’s right. You are officially out of your 20’s.

Your 20’s were good to you. They brought you your husband. Your kids. Your career. Your passion.

But they were rough, too. The loss of your brother, your parents. Chronic sinus problems. Back trouble. Bad feet.

You’ve had some good times – times you’ve laughed until you’ve cried, times you’ve cried until you laughed.  Sometimes those events were the same day!  There’s been lots of lessons learned.  Lots of friends made, and more than a few you’ve lost touch with over the years.  You’ve learned relationships are tough.  Sometimes really tough.  Tough just to keep going – tough to put the extra work in to keep the flame alive.  But oh, so very, very worth it.

I guess I wanted to write you this to give you some advice. Advice you probably won’t listen to, but you’ll nod and smile and say you’ll listen, and I wanted to write it out here so there were witnesses, so to speak.  So here it is. The big advice for you going into your 30s:  Do hard stuff.

Life is hard.  Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Friendships are hard. Work is hard. Faith is hard. Cleaning is hard. Downtime is hard.

Cooking is hard to find time for in light of all that other stuff.

Be kind to yourself – but also, be good at doing hard stuff, because at the end of the day that’s really what life is about.  Dig in to the moment, be present and real with people.  Acknowledge that you’re doing something hard, and then do it.  Give yourself a break when you fail, because you’re going to. Just be ready for it.  Every day you’re going to wake up with 57 things to do and you are going to fail to do most of them.

Try to do them anyways.  Don’t half-ass it, either, because who wants half-ass attention? No one. So do one thing really good. And then do another, and another, and another.  You may end up with 14 good things by the end of the day. Awesome. You did good.  You failed at 43 things, but they don’t matter because you rocked at 14 things.

When you turn 30 (if you’re me) you start to think about your legacy.  At the end of my life I want to be known as someone who was real.  Someone who had to dig her way through life with broken nails and tear stains and dirty tennis shoes who was a real person to the people she interacted with.  I don’t want people to think I’m something I’m not. I’m a mess – just like every other human being on this messy broken earth.

By the grace of God I’d like to fight against that brokenness – the brokenness that destroyed my parents, the brokenness that threatens to take others every day… I’d like to BE KIND and DO HARD STUFF because it helps fix some of that brokenness. And if on any given day I can only do 14 good things, or even just 1 good thing, it means the world is that many more things better than it was yesterday.